Next Wave of Premier Players Ready For NFL Draft

With the sporting world having pretty much shut down due to COVID -19 – marble racing and premier league soccer in Belarus not withstanding – it is important to look forward to some event that can bring some sense of normalcy back to the sporting calendar. The NFL have confirmed that the 2020 NFL Draft will be going ahead as scheduled, though the event will be held remotely instead of in Las Vegas as was originally planned. This means we can look forward to seeing where the next wave of premier players in the NFL will (eventually) be taking their talents and there is no player in this draft better than Ohio State Buckeyes superstar Chase Young.

Young – an EDGE rusher in NFL terms – may not be the first player selected in this draft because of the value that NFL teams put on elite quarterbacks. That is why the likes of LSU QB Joe Burrow and Alabama passer Tua Tagovailoa may well be chosen before Young. If we were to draft purely on talent, production, and fit at the NFL level, however, there is no doubt that this premier player would be the first one snatched off of the 2020 board.

Young has the prototypical build of an EDGE rusher in the modern game. He stands at 6-foot-5 and 264 pounds. He has explosive speed off of the edge that shows in every game tape that you will watch of this premier player, though with individual workouts curtailed by the pandemic we will not see a recent 40-yard-dash time from Young after he decided his tape did enough talking for him and he skipped the drills/workouts portion of the combine.

Young is an immediate impact kind of player. He will not take a year of seasoning and study to become the kind of game-changing player that he was in college. This is a guy that spent most of the last two seasons facing double and triple teams on a down-by-down basis and was still productive enough to take over games. In 12 starts in 2019 he led the FBS with 16.5 sacks and six forced fumbles as a player who knows not only how to get to the quarterback, but also how to create a momentum shifting turnover with his sacking technique.

Young finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last season – exceptionally high for a defensive player – and he can work as either a stand up rusher or with his hand in the dirt. The best pass rushing prospect of the last decade (at least), Young is a game wrecker who knows how talented he is and who backs it up every time out on the field.

The country is going to need a new breed of premier players to get behind after this crisis and inject life and energy into sports as they resume. Young is one of those stars poised to breakout at the next level whenever sports begin again.

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Coach Reid’s Play Innovation Keeps Chiefs Competitive

The premier coach in the NFL to never win a Super Bowl no longer carries that damning caveat on his resume. As of Super Bowl LIV, Kansas City Chiefs’ Head Coach Andy Reid will always be known as a Super Bowl winner to go along with all the other accolades he has picked up throughout his Hall of Fame caliber career.

Big Red – as he is affectionately known – is one of the most well liked and most respected men in the history of the National Football League. He is such a down to earth character that Reid celebrated the AFC title game that put him within 60 minutes of the crowning achievement for a coach by eating a cheeseburger and going to bed.

It was hardly the act of someone going back to the Super Bowl 15 years since his last shot at the Lombardi Trophy.

Reid, though, never seemed to let that chase change him. Over 14 years in Philadelphia with the Eagles and then his first six years in Kansas City he has always been the same guy. He and the Eagles parted ways at the right time – both the franchise and the man now have Super Bowl wins to prove it – and this premier coach landed in an organization in Kansas City with fans who couldn’t believe their luck.

That luck only increased on draft day three years ago when Patrick Mahomes became the Chiefs’ first round pick, giving Reid a quarterback with unique and perhaps even generational levels of talent to develop. One of the greatest aspect of Reid’s coaching is that he has never been afraid to try things, he has never got stuck in his ways and refused to see how the game has changed. That a 61-year-old can run an offense as innovative as any in the NFL is a testament to his ability to lead and his ability to self-critique what he is doing as a coach.

In the year that the NFL celebrated a full century of play, there is no more fitting a first-time coaching Super Bowl champ than Andrew Walter Reid.

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Mostert’s Runs Fueled By The Agony of 7 Cuts & No Starts

Not everyone rises to be a premier player in the same way. That is especially true in the NFL, a league where the bust rate of top draft picks and the rise to the top of lower round guys happens more often than the ‘draft gurus’ would ever want you to believe.

These stories, though, remain compelling. That is why the story of San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert will get so much play as we approach Super Bowl LIV where Mostert’s 49ers will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Mostert was the premier player on the field as the 49ers ran all over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game on January 19th.  Mostert, however, was not a highly touted college athlete who was expected to dominate an NFL defense as easily as he did in Santa Clara. This is a player who was cut by no less than six teams in the space of an 18 month span at one point in his career.

Being cut once is enough of an ego check for many to consider their future in the sport. To be cut six times in such a short space of time – Mostert was basically packing his bags every three months – has to be beyond demoralizing. To be able to suck up those cuts, to learn from them, and to come back a better and more determined player, shows everything about the undrafted free agent out of Purdue in 2015.

Players that bounce around the league in such a manner aren’t supposed to do this. Mostert has yet to actually start a game in his NFL career, but in the NFC championship match he rushed for the second most yards in a single game in NFL playoff history. He went for an insane 220 yards and four touchdowns, beating defenders in every way imaginable. It was an astonishing display of talent from a man who could have easily fallen out of the league four or five times in his career already.

This quote from Mostert shows how he uses the past to fuel his future:

“I actually still have the cut dates. And I look at that before every game. I look at the cut dates when I got cut. I’ve been on, like I said, seven different teams. The journey’s been crazy. Not even — not everybody can deal with that type of stress and pain and agony that I went through.”

Everyone can learn from this journey as they are hit with a disappointment – or a string of disappointments – in their life. Be like this premier player and rise above the noise and the negativity of other people’s perception of you to succeed.

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Premier Players of The NFL That Dominated The Decade

As we settle in to 2020 it is important to remember what came before. The 2010-19 stretch in the NFL saw some amazing players – and amazing performances – as the league became more and more about an offensive arms race.  Here are the five premier players of the NFL that excelled the most in the last decade:

5.  Aaron Donald – DT – L.A. Rams

Donald has taken on the mantle as the best defensive player in the league from a man further down this list. He is an unstoppable force on the inside, a player who requires double and triple teams on every snap just to keep him contained. He was named first-team All-Pro five times this decade and given that he was still a college player for the first three years of the 2010s that is quite the record.

4.  Rob Gronkowski – TE – New England Patriots

Gronkowski was a player good enough that announcers called him by his nickname as opposed to his given name. Gronk was the biggest matchup nightmare of the decade, a giant human with enough speed to score long touchdowns while being almost unstoppable in the red zone. He scored 79 touchdowns in 115 games and the only thing that stopped him shattering record for a tight end was his inability to keep that massive frame healthy. The Patriots simply don’t look the same without him.

3.  J.J. Watt – DE –  Houston Texans

Watt is a premier player who was voted as a first-team All-Pro at his position in half of the decade’s ten seasons. He was an absolute monster at the turn of the decade when he was named as the Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL in 2012, 2014, and 2015. He picked up 96 sacks over the course of the decade and that is a number that would have been greatly increased had the second half of the 10 year period not seen Watt battling a series of injures.

2.  Joe Thomas – OT – Cleveland Browns

Thomas is a player underappreciated even on lists like this because he played his entire career for a franchise stuck in reverse. He was voted to the Pro Bowl every year he played during the decade – 2010 to 2016 – before he retired prior to the 2017 season. He was a five-time first-team All-Pro this decade and he played a total of 10,363 consecutive snaps, a monumental achievement for an offensive lineman. One of the greatest to ever play his position, Thomas is a worthy inclusion on this list.

1.  Tom Brady – QB – New England Patriots

Love him or hate him it is hard to deny that Tom Brady was the best NFL premier player of the decade. He made nine Pro Bowls during this stretch of his career, being named First-team All-Pro twice, winning a pair of MVP awards and winning the Lombardi trophy with the Patriots on three occasions. The crazy part about this is that Brady achieved all this at an ever increasing age that was supposed to be past his prime. Brady rejuvenated himself in his 30s and he continues to play at a high level now in his 40s and entering a new decade in the league.

Fans Vote Jackson
The Premier Player of Pro Football

Sports fans voted Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson the recipient of the 2019 Premier Player of Professional Football award.

Lamar Jackson took the NFL by storm in his second year as a professional football player. The 6-foot-2, 212 pound player out of Pompano Beach, Florida, was selected with the final pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Ravens.  He was seen as a low-risk pick by a team with Joe Flacco working as the starting quarterback, but an intriguing prospect out of Louisville who had passed for over 9,000 yards and rushed for over 4,100 yards in three years with the Cardinals.

Jackson found time in 16 games in his rookie NFL season, starting seven of them as he took over from the injured Flacco.  Jackson rolled the Ravens into the playoffs and became the youngest quarterback to ever start a playoff game when they took on the Chargers in the Wild Card Round. While the Ravens would ultimately lose that game, the team had found a quarterback perfect for the changing dynamics of a modern NFL offense.

The Ravens made the decision to move on from Flacco and a new offensive system was built that would allow the athletic and improvisational Jackson to flourish.  Playing just 15 games this season – Jackson and other key starters sat for the Week 17 contest because a playoff spot was secure – the second-year pro passed for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns. Jackson added 1,206 yards on the ground and another seven scores. This made Jackson the first player to throw 30+ touchdowns and rush for over 1,000 yards in a single season.

Jackson’s most impressive stat on the season though might be his six interceptions thrown. While the NFL is more about passing the ball than ever, it is still almost impossible to win when the ball is turned over. Jackson was a 66.1% passer in 2019, but his misses rarely result in the ball being picked off. When he missed a pass he always seems to miss it well, with his ability to tuck the ball and run giving him an option against the pass rush that few quarterbacks can match.

That Jackson is achieving such a high level of play at his age and experience level is remarkable. He is actually younger than the 2019 Premier Player of College Football award winner Joe Burrow, yet Jackson is making these plays against the best of the best in the world.  The sky is the limit for Jackson as he marches into the new decade as the best professional football player on the planet per fans.

“Fans are such a big part of the games, so we wanted to come up with an award that they can be a big part of too,” says Carnell Moore, founder of Premier Players.  All the athletes on the ballot are Premier Players, but we let the fans decide who gets the trophy.”

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Duvernay-Tardif Hard Work Makes Him A Starter, Doctor

There is a stereotype about NFL players – and athletes in general – that is simply not always true. While many conform to the same likes and the same lifestyles, there are others that walk to a slightly different beat and that are still premier players both in the league and in life.  One such player is Kansas City Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

You have probably seen Duvernay-Tardif play and paid little attention to the 321 pound, 6-foot-5 offensive linemen. Linemen – after all – do kind of blend in with one another on the field unless they have some kind of distinctive hairstyle or other noticeable feature. On the field Duvernay-Tardif doesn’t really have this, he is just a solid pro who has worked his way into the Chiefs starting lineup after originally being drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Where you may have noticed Duvernay-Tardif is when he introduces himself on the Sunday Night Football broadcast where the players say their name and their college – or at least they should, but that is a debate for another time. In a world of “Alabama” and “The U”, Duvernay-Tardif is alone in coming into the NFL from McGill. He is also alone in having a heavy French-Canadian accent as he hails from the town of Mont-Saint-Hilaire in Quebec, Canada.

Even that, though, isn’t what truly sets the Chiefs’ player apart. What would do so is that somehow between 2010 and 2018 he was able to transition his college career in Canada into an NFL career in the Midwest all while pursuing the medical degree that he graduated with in 2018.

If the NFL was cool, then Duvernay-Tardif M.D. would be on the back of the big Quebecers jersey every Sunday afternoon. This is the type of player that the NFL should celebrate, a guy who was able to stretch a traditional four year medical degree into an eight year odyssey and fit in lessons on physiology and anatomy around learning an NFL playbook and schemes on a weekly basis.

Duvernay-Tardff was the first – and so far only – active NFL player to graduate to becoming a physician from medical school. This meant hours spent shadowing doctors and taking care of patients, all while still working gym sessions and staying in NFL shape. Duvernay-Tardif has been able to achieve all this – and is an example to all – because of his combination of insane work ethic and a thirst for knowledge and culture that we could all strive to work towards.

This premier player also sees his role in educating and being transparent on the subject of concussions in the NFL as important. He is an advocate for new technologies and more openness about the issue, noting that keeping youth players out of tackle football until there are in their teens – and thus understanding aspects like tackle technique and force – would be a step in the right direction.

Duvernay-Tardif will likely never be classed as anyone’s favorite player – the guard position doesn’t get a lot of love like that – but he is a player that all fans should be aware of for his approach to life and his leadership in showing just what is possible if you apply yourself.

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Navy Coach Turns Season Around With Changes To Staff

It can be argued that the three most difficult coaching jobs in the FBS are at the military academies.  Coaching at Air Force, Army, or Navy is often a life-long dream for the man in charge, but given factors such as military service (voiding players an NFL shot), the extra work that comes with being a military student, and mandatory fitness requirements, the job certainly isn’t easy when it comes to the basic college football ideas of recruiting and game-day preparation.

That is why it is important to note just how impressive Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has been during his decade in charge of Navy.  The coach has put together a program that easily marks him as one of the premier coaches in the FBS today.

In 2018, Navy went 3-10 and lost to Army for a third straight year.  While the Black Knights were trending up, the Mids were trending down, something that hadn’t happened often since Niumatalolo took the reins from Paul Johnson in 2008.  The winningest coach in the history of the program – with many other accolades to go beside his name – Niumatalolo responded by shaking up his staff and making some key hires.

One of those hires was a full-time nutritionist as Coach Niumatalolo realized that his players needed vital nutritional guidance in line with the top programs in the country if the Mids were going to get back to the level he expected.  He also gave the keys of the offense to QB Malcolm Perry, a player who excelled as a sophomore but who Niumatalolo felt he hadn’t push to his next level as a player.

Navy runs a triple-option offense that is a throwback to a day before the forward pass was even invented.  Niumatalolo knew that he needed to make changes here too, bringing in a passing coach (Billy Ray Stutzman) to work with Perry and make him a competent passer to go along with the running ability he had already shown.

Part of being a premier coach in any sport is knowing when you have to shake things up and – more importantly – knowing when you are doing something wrong.  It is easy as a coach to think that you know best at all times, especially when you have been at a job like Niumatalolo has for over a decade. The problem with this is that ideas get stale and coaches end up tapering off to nothing.

Every budding coach out there can learn something from the way Niumatalolo has conducted himself at Navy. From his initial burst phase, through the bad seasons, to reinventing the team with some key staff changes and additions in the 2019 season.  The future is always in question, but Navy has one of the premier coaches in the country leading their team and – as such – they seem to be in very good hands.

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Panthers’ McCaffrey Gets It Done With Old-School Ethics

Christian McCaffrey is one of those premier players that refuses to be told what he cannot do. When he arrived at Stanford after playing multiple positions in high school – generally excelling whenever he was questioned by his coach – McCaffrey was seen as too small and too slender to play as a running back in head coach David Shaw’s power running scheme. Shaw quickly learned how things were going to be with McCaffrey, a player whose drive, determination, and unlimited skill set have him on the verge of one of that all-time great NFL seasons by a running back in the league’s 100th year.

“I’m a running back,” McCaffrey told Shaw. “I came to Stanford. I want to run the power play.”

In a world of five wide receiver sets and platooned running backs, McCaffrey is the ultimate outlier. This premier player seemingly never comes off of the field – he is a fantasy football owner’s dream – and he is a true three down back in an era where players of that type have, by and large, been completely phased out of the league.

McCaffrey can play this way – and this volume – because he is simply outstanding at everything it takes to be a modern running back, even if he is doing it all with an old-school work ethic and durability. The Panthers obviously use him as a runner – through eight games in 2019 he has over 1,200 yards and 13 total touchdowns – but his play is so much more than that.

The Carolina Panthers look for McCaffrey on basically every play. He is a great blocker and a fantastic decoy, but he isn’t used in that way. Instead, he is often running routes out of the backfield or – when the Panthers get creative – out in the slot where he becomes an absolute match-up nightmare against a linebacker, a safety, or all but the best coverage cornerbacks. We haven’t seen a player in the mold of Marshall Faulk in the league since the Ram’s great hung up his cleats.  McCaffrey is the closest thing we have seen to the Super Bowl XXXIV winner in years.

The eighth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft has years ahead of him performing at this level. Yes, he touches the ball way too much, but he plays with a style that never seems to leave him on the end of crushing hits like a lot of running backs. He tends to give out the punishment instead of receiving it, picking his moments as all premier players do in order to maximize his production for the team.

It is too early to tell if McCaffrey will be an all-time great, but his first couple of years in the league have done nothing but show he has the class to get there. McCaffrey is a record setting back – first player in NFL history with 1,000 yards rushing and 500 receiving in 10 games – and he is only getting better.

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Jackson’s Performance Puts Him In League MVP Talks

Patrick Mahomes might be the most watchable player in the NFL in 2019 – assuming that his dislocated kneecap heals as expected – but there is another young quarterback in the league who has quickly become must-see-TV in his own right.

Lamar Jackson will finish the 2019 regular season as a 22-year-old – he turns 23 in January – but this premier player in the NFL has made a dramatic leap in his second year of playing to the point that he could be a dark horse in the race for MVP.

Jackson is the most unique quarterback to perhaps ever play in the NFL. He is a running threat every time he touches the ball, but no one would really describe him as quick or hugely explosive. His running ability is much more of a glide than a sprint, with the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder eating up the space with a stride that makes him look taller than his frame. He has worked his throwing mechanics down to a science, making passes with accuracy and power in his second year that he would never have been able to complete as a college player at Louisville. He is also full of those intangibles that make a player like Russell Wilson of the Seahawks such a star.

What Jackson really has going for him is his work ethic. The final pick of the first-round of the 2018 NFL Draft is one of those guys who has pure dedication to his craft. He wants to be the best, to challenge for Super Bowls and to build a legacy in Baltimore. That is why the Ravens were so willing to promote Jackson to be their starting quarterback – no matter how raw he still was – after Joe Flacco went down with an injury in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jackson finished his rookie year starting seven games, throwing for six touchdowns and three picks while rushing for five more. Through seven games in 2019, a small sample size admittedly, Jackson has clearly improved. He has thrown for 11 touchdowns with five picks and has rushed for three more scored. His completion percentage is the biggest change, however, as Jackson has gone from tossing completions at a rate of 58.2-percent to hitting them at 65.1-percent. The result of this is that the Ravens, behind their premier player, are looking like one of the teams to beat in the AFC.

Jackson is a new era quarterback, but he is playing on an old era team. In a pass-happy league, the Ravens under John Harbaugh are running the ball as effectively as anyone in the NFL. Jackson is a huge part of this as he churns off 100-yard rushing games as consistently as most mid-level running backs. He is one of those premier players that will do whatever it takes to win, eschewing personal stats for the good of the team.

All in all, with Jackson at the helm things are looking very bright in Baltimore.

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Manning Influence, Success A Major Part of Giants History

Placing Eli Manning in the history of NFL quarterbacks is no easy job. Manning has been overshadowed for his entire career by other signal callers – not least of which was his brother Peyton – and he has faced extra levels of scrutiny and criticism simply because he plays in the New York market.

Manning, however, rose above all that noise, above the dominance of Tom Brady and the passing stats of Drew Brees, and today he should be regarded as one of the premier players in his sport over the last decade or so.

It says a lot about Manning and his career that his two Super Bowl wins – both wins over Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots no less – were achieved with the New York Giants carving their route to Super Bowl success as a wild-card team. Manning was never seemingly a player who could win 12, 13, or 14 games a season, and to be fair this was as much to do with the supporting cast that the Giants built around him as to the play of the quarterback himself. What Manning could – and did – do however, was to perform like a premier player in the big moments and on the big stage.

In each of his two Super Bowl wins his team was a double-digit underdog to win the title. The first game saw David Tyree pull down his famous catch off of his helmet, but it was Eli who put the ball up into a position for Tyree to make a play. It is a play still seen on ESPN to this day, but the significance of Eli’s pass, of preventing the Patriots from the first perfect season since the ’72 Dolphins marched their way through the NFL, seems to have been a little lost in the decade that has followed.

Real Giants fans love Eli. They are aware that this premier player gave everything for the franchise through injury and scrutiny for his entire career. Eli was never the flashy quarterback – either in playing style or lifestyle – that the New York tabloids wanted, but he was a premier player at the start as he carved out a place for himself on the team’s Mount Rushmore alongside the likes of L.T. and Michael Strahan.

Manning is the best passer in Giants’ history. His 116-116 record is obviously worse looking than the 101-68 record Phil Simms put up, but it is fair to say that Sims had far more help than Manning ever saw. That is both in terms of the coaching and the defenses that Sims played with and the lack of both those aspects that Manning had to muddle through.

Premier players achieve despite their surrounding cast and that is the legacy that Manning has left in New York. The time was right to make the switch to rookie Daniel Jones, but never underestimate the influence and success that Eli achieved and will leave in the Big Apple.

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